Razorback basketball report: Muss says it's 'way too early' to fret over NET

Arkansas coach Eric Musselman reacts during a 78-72 loss to UNC-Greensboro on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Eric Musselman clearly isn’t a fan of the first release of the first NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings, which made their season debut on Monday.

The Razorbacks came in somewhat surprisingly at No. 114 in the rankings, which are among the factors used by the NCAA Selection Committee in picking the NCAA Tournament field. Arkansas’ ranking is 11th in the SEC.

“I mean, you guys don’t want my reaction,” Musselman said in a video conference on Wednesday. “It’s way too early, so to me it’s irrelevant. We have a whole SEC schedule that is going to determine a lot for us just as anyone we play.”

Musselman had referred to an early stretch of the Arkansas schedule as among the toughest any Division I team would face this year.

That segment featured consecutive games against Memphis and ACC powers North Carolina and Duke. The Hogs went 1-2 in those games, the first two losses in the Battle 4 Atlantis in Nassau, The Bahamas, followed by an 80-75 win over No. 7 Duke at Walton Arena.

Those games were bracketed by a neutral site win over Stanford in double overtime and a 97-83 home win over Furman, a veteran team that downed Virginia in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

The Razorbacks’ NET will get a boost out of today’s game in Tulsa against No. 19 Oklahoma, which is No. 16 in the NET rankings.

“It is what it is,” Musselman said. “We have a game Saturday. That’s really all we should focus on.

“People start talking about March Madness and it’s December 6 or something like that. There’s a lot of stuff that’s going to happen. It gives you guys something to talk about and gives something for me to be in a bad mood about.”

Lots of throws

The Razorbacks lead the SEC by a wide margin and ranks seventh in Division I with 28.1 free throw attempts per game. That figure was above 29 before Arkansas was held to 21 tries against Furman on Monday.

Musselman, asked about the technical foul he drew late in the game after Layden Blocker was called for a foul on a three-point attempt, seemed frustrated the officials didn’t whistle more fouls on Furman.

“We had 52 paint points and only two free throws at the half,” Musselman said. “We’re one of the best free throw attempt teams … in the nation. It’s not like we were hoisting threes. … We were trying to draw free throws. That’s a big part of our game and it didn’t happen.”

Arkansas has taken 253 free throws, 25 more than Alabama for the SEC lead. However, the Hogs’ 70% free-throw shooting ranks 12th in the conference, well behind the league-leading Crimson Tide (79.8%), which has made 182 free throws to the Hogs’ 177.

Who’s third?

The Razorbacks are searching for a perimeter contributor who will defend and rebound to the program’s standards and the auditions are still open.

Musselman said Davonte “Devo” Davis and Tramon Mark are setting the example at guard and have earned their minutes.

“Look, we put Devo Davis on the best offensive perimeter player every single night. Every night,” Musselman said on Monday. “And that takes a load off other people, and then if other guys aren’t guarding their guy and Devo is guarding the best guy, we can’t keep playing that player.

“Whoever it may be, because Devo is taking a guy and then T-Mark is taking the next best offensive guy. Somebody else has got to guard the third-best perimeter player, and if you can’t, we are tired of giving that opportunity when we know those two guys are guarding the first-best player and the second-best player.”

The perimeter rotation has also most frequently included transfers Khalif Battle, El Ellis and Jeremiah Davenport along with freshman Layden Blocker.

Battle’s scoring prowess — his 16.8 points per game is second on the team behind Mark — and 44% three-point shooting keeps him in the rotation. His 25.8 minutes per game rank fourth behind Davis (32.1), Trevon Brazile (30.3) and Mark (29.1).

Ellis is at 22.1 minutes, Blocker at 16.4 and Davenport at 13.9.

Massive margins

Oklahoma (8-0) has won its games by an eye-popping margin of 23.5 points per game with every win by double figures except for one.

The Sooners’ closest win was 72-70 over Southern California in the final of the Rady Children’s Invitational in San Diego over Thanksgiving.

Oklahoma pulverized Providence 72-51 in its last outing in the Big East-Big 12 Battle on Tuesday in Norman, Okla. The Sooners have three wins by 30-plus points and three more by 20-plus points.

3s needed

The Razorbacks are fifth in the SEC and tied for 103rd nationally with 35.1% three-point shooting, an improvement over last season’s 31.3% mark which ranked 315th among 352 Division I teams. Musselman thinks the current rate should be higher.

“I would hope we’re going to even shoot better than we have,” Musselman said.

Brazile (46%), Battle (44%) and Mark (37%) are off to strong starts behind the arc along with big man Chandler Lawson (2 of 4), but guards Davenport (25%), Davis (24%) and Ellis (23%) are not.

“Davenport’s a guy that we see every day in practice [and] he should have a higher percentage than he does,” Musselman said. “I mean, Devo Davis last year in SEC play was incredible from three-point range. And I think he’ll shoot a higher percentage, just like he did last year, as the season progresses.”

Hot shots

Arkansas shot 60% or better in both halves against Furman, the first time the Hogs hit that mark this season.

The Razorbacks were 18 of 30 (60%) in the first half while building a 40-35 lead. They heated up in the second half with 61.3% shooting, including 5 of 10 from three-point range.

It marked the first game Arkansas has made more than half its shots since opening the year with 50% or better shooting in wins over Alcorn State, Gardner-Webb and Old Dominion. The Hogs’ season low is 30% shooting (23 of 76) in a 77-74 double overtime win against Stanford in The Bahamas.

OU series

Arkansas holds a 17-13 lead in the series against Oklahoma, which will be held on a yearly basis next year with the Sooners joining the SEC along with Texas. The series dates to the 1938-39 season.

The Razorbacks hold an overwhelming 6-1 edge in games played on a neutral court. The lone loss came in an 88-66 upset two years ago in the inaugural Crimson & Cardinal Classic at the BOK Center when Arkansas was ranked No. 12.

The Razorbacks matched that point total in an 88-78 win last season behind 26 points from Ricky Council and 21 from Nick Smith.

The Crimson & Cardinal Classic was originally planned for four consecutive years, but today’s game will be the last due to Oklahoma’s move to the SEC.

Hitting 1,000

Battle reached the 1,000-point mark on Monday with his first shot of the game, a three-pointer soon after he checked in early in the game en route to a team-high 25 points on 7 of 11 shooting.

The 6-5 Battle now has 1,022 points in one season at Butler (72 points), three at Temple (799) and his first at Arkansas (151).

“I had a big second half scoring, but I think anybody on the team can do what I did,” Battle said. “I need to do the little things because we didn’t win by a big enough margin. A thousand points is cool, but we’ve got to do better. Me individually but us as a team as well.”

Battle is the third Razorback to reach the 1,000-point mark, following Davenport (1,090), who scored 1,060 at Cincinnati, and Davis (1,011), who is a career Razorback.